Help Your Leaders Lead

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Deep inside an enormous software company, a team of passionately committed individuals works day and night to improve their customers’ and partners’ experiences. These committed service heroes know that satisfaction is not enough to retain loyalty and gain market share. They want more than quick recovery when things go wrong; they want to prevent things from going wrong in the first place. They want more than just meeting expectations; they are serious about customer delight. And though the company is sprawling and diverse, these employees believe everyone should step up in service, creating the next great experience together.

Unfortunately, their leaders do not seem to agree. Or perhaps they do not understand. During a workshop, one thundered that he was sick and tired of all the problems and simply yelled at his people to “Fix it!” Another took the stage in front of hundreds, with thousands more watching on video around the world and said, “Customer satisfaction is our number one goal. We must strive to meet expectations.” Our service heroes cringed.

Demoralized but still committed, they returned to fighting for a cause these leaders did not promote or defend. One of their leaders told me candidly, “We don’t have a business case for improving our service. There is no crisis now we need to fix, and even if we do improve our service, we won’t make any more money.” This is sweet music to their competition’s ears. And then, as if to accentuate the complete lack of alignment at the top, yet another senior leader publicly announced, “We must make all our customers deliriously happy. Anything less is failure.”



How can anyone reach the top of a large organization and not understand the value of an uplifting service culture? That’s an easy question to answer. Most people who reach high leadership positions are experts in their industry. Often they have strong financial skills and equally strong personalities. But rarely are they experts in building or leading a service culture. That’s not what earned them bonuses or brought them up the ladder in the first place.

But a winning service culture must have effective service leaders and uplifting leadership teams. If you are one of the passionate and committed service heroes inside your organization, you may need to help your leaders lead. It may seem odd for managers, supervisors, and frontline staff to tell their leaders what to do—but who else is going to give them help if you won’t step up to do it?

You can help your leaders lead by creating opportunities for them to walk the talk, talk the talk, and model uplifting service. Organizing a customer meeting, focus group, or panel discussion? Invite your leaders to join you, and brief them well when they arrive. Holding a team meeting, cross-functional workshop, or problem-solving session about service issues? Let your leaders know in advance and ask them to stop by to hear the new ideas. Have you got a method for recognition of top-notch service providers? Ask your leaders to participate with a visit, a handshake, a photograph, and a short speech.

Afraid your leaders don’t know what to say? Then take the initiative and take responsibility to help your leaders lead. Write short descriptions of service problems that have been recently solved: Who worked on the problem? What did they do? and, How has service been improved? Many of these examples exist inside any organization, but rarely do the details make it to the top.

Concerned your leaders don’t see the impact, power, or competitive necessity of uplifting service? Then clip or snip interesting stories about other service leaders—or service disasters—and send them up with a handwritten note sharing your admiration or concern. Or you can organize a benchmarking visit, and invite your leaders to come along. They are too busy to make the visit on the date? Send them a single page report of what you saw, what you learned, and what you will apply.

Afraid customer service is simply lost on the busy agenda of your leaders? Then organize an executive summary of current complaints—and what you are doing about them. Add to this a few carefully selected compliments you have received. Some leaders are drawn to trouble—and your summary will attract their attention. Others are in need of some uplifting themselves, and the compliments you send up the chain of command will be most welcome.

Deep inside an enormous software company, a team of passionately committed individuals works day and night to improve their customers’ and partners’ experiences. These committed service heroes know that satisfaction is not enough to retain loyalty and gain market share. They want more than quick recovery when things go wrong; they want to prevent things from going wrong in the first place. They want more than just meeting expectations; they are serious about customer delight. And though the company is sprawling and diverse, these employees believe everyone should step up in service, creating the next great experience together.



Unfortunately, their leaders do not seem to agree. Or perhaps they do not understand. During a workshop, one thundered that he was sick and tired of all the problems and simply yelled at his people to “Fix it!” Another took the stage in front of hundreds, with thousands more watching on video around the world and said, “Customer satisfaction is our number one goal. We must strive to meet expectations.” Our service heroes cringed.

Demoralized but still committed, they returned to fighting for a cause these leaders did not promote or defend. One of their leaders told me candidly, “We don’t have a business case for improving our service. There is no crisis now we need to fix, and even if we do improve our service, we won’t make any more money.” This is sweet music to their competition’s ears. And then, as if to accentuate the complete lack of alignment at the top, yet another senior leader publicly announced, “We must make all our customers deliriously happy. Anything less is failure.”

How can anyone reach the top of a large organization and not understand the value of an uplifting service culture? That’s an easy question to answer. Most people who reach high leadership positions are experts in their industry. Often they have strong financial skills and equally strong personalities. But rarely are they experts in building or leading a service culture. That’s not what earned them bonuses or brought them up the ladder in the first place.

But a winning service culture must have effective service leaders and uplifting leadership teams. If you are one of the passionate and committed service heroes inside your organization, you may need to help your leaders lead. It may seem odd for managers, supervisors, and frontline staff to tell their leaders what to do—but who else is going to give them help if you won’t step up to do it?

You can help your leaders lead by creating opportunities for them to walk the talk, talk the talk, and model uplifting service. Organizing a customer meeting, focus group, or panel discussion? Invite your leaders to join you, and brief them well when they arrive. Holding a team meeting, cross-functional workshop, or problem-solving session about service issues? Let your leaders know in advance and ask them to stop by to hear the new ideas. Have you got a method for recognition of top-notch service providers? Ask your leaders to participate with a visit, a handshake, a photograph, and a short speech.

Afraid your leaders don’t know what to say? Then take the initiative and take responsibility to help your leaders lead. Write short descriptions of service problems that have been recently solved: Who worked on the problem? What did they do? and, How has service been improved? Many of these examples exist inside any organization, but rarely do the details make it to the top.



Concerned your leaders don’t see the impact, power, or competitive necessity of uplifting service? Then clip or snip interesting stories about other service leaders—or service disasters—and send them up with a handwritten note sharing your admiration or concern. Or you can organize a benchmarking visit, and invite your leaders to come along. They are too busy to make the visit on the date? Send them a single page report of what you saw, what you learned, and what you will apply.

Afraid customer service is simply lost on the busy agenda of your leaders? Then organize an executive summary of current complaints—and what you are doing about them. Add to this a few carefully selected compliments you have received. Some leaders are drawn to trouble—and your summary will attract their attention. Others are in need of some uplifting themselves, and the compliments you send up the chain of command will be most welcome.

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